“Friction is a lot like spinach. We don’t like it, but it’s good for us,” says Andrea Guendelman, the CEO of Speak_ and a specialist in expansive leadership. In the recent Greenhouse, Namely and Checkr webinar, The mark of inclusive leaders, Andrea explained that friction is inevitable when organizations welcome a diverse group of employees into their ranks. And while many diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs aim to reduce conflict, they should not aim to eliminate friction. Read on to learn more about why friction can actually be beneficial to your organization and how to introduce it thoughtfully.
Why removing friction shouldn’t be the goal of DE&I programs
“Friction is positive,” says Andrea. She argues that friction is the antidote to groupthink. Having diverse perspectives provides the push we need to become more creative. “We often forget that the type of creativity we’re talking about is the one that destroys or challenges paradigms. It doesn’t come from idyllic, calm, quiet moments or thinking alone like a philosopher, but it really comes from people and ideas colliding and having different worldviews.”
“The best selling point of diversity and inclusion is friction, because organizations stagnate without it. Without friction, companies are boring, complacent, conformist and avoid taking risks.” –Andrea Guendelman, CEO of Speak_.
Andrea argues that DE&I programs should provide us with toolkits for working with others who are not like us. She distills this into five key lessons.
Lesson 1: Have open brainstorming sessions
Start with low-stakes brainstorming sessions. Break teams into groups in an intentional manner so you have people with different backgrounds and personality types. During the group sessions, everyone should participate and their goal is to generate ideas without judgment or evaluation. Once a session is over, ask participants to reflect on whether they gained any new insights or perspectives. Did they find any value in the process of deferring judgment?
Lesson 2: Teach negotiation
Negotiation is a skill that benefits everyone and is useful in both their personal and professional lives. As the workplace becomes more diverse, negotiation becomes more important. Many leaders worry that teaching their teams to negotiate means they’ll be inundated with requests for raises. But that’s not really how it works, says Andrea. When your people develop negotiation skills, they become better advocates for themselves, their teams and ultimately your organization – and that’s a good thing.
Lesson 3: Organize show-and-tells
Remember show-and-tell from elementary school, where students bring in a favorite toy or object and talk about it in front of the class? Andrea says this can be a powerful way for people to share how they self-identify and how they’d like to be perceived. For example, when you ask your team members to show you a photo of one of their favorite places, it may not be somewhere obvious like where they were born or grew up. Whatever place they choose and their explanation for choosing it will help you better understand that person and their values. And this information can come in handy in the future when you’re trying to see things from their perspective.
Lesson 4: Invite everyone to an assembly
Another elementary school tradition that Andrea recommends mirroring is gathering the entire community for an assembly where examples of friction and creativity can be explored. Invite professionals from other fields or industries to share a story of how they creatively solved a problem or developed something together. This type of conversation can help jolt people out of their routines, advance new collaboration and prompt fresh insights.
Lesson 5: Engage in advanced brainstorming
Now that your people have been developing their toolkits and getting more comfortable with sharing and understanding the power of different perspectives, it’s time to revisit the concept of brainstorming. This time, Andrea suggests a more high-stakes approach. Choose a topic that’s important to your company right now – an urgent issue or question you’re facing. You still want to create a safe space with ground rules, so encourage people to defer judgment just as they did in the initial sessions. Just be aware that when you choose a hot button issue, egos are more likely to be involved and people will find it more challenging to listen without evaluating or judging.
Remember: Frictionless isn’t the goal
Within the product and tech worlds, we often strive for “frictionless” experiences. But as Andrea reminds us, having a frictionless organization isn’t good for business. We need to challenge the status quo and spark creativity. “Friction can bring power when we learn to incorporate it into the fabric of what we do.”
Looking for even more insights into how to promote DE&I at your organization? Watch Andrea’s full presentation, available on demand here.